The government is expected to announce a state of emergency following requests from the northern regions of Lombardy, Piedmont, Veneto and Emilia-Romagna, junior health minister Andrea Costa said on Tuesday.
“The conditions necessary to declare a state of emergency have been met,” Costa told SkyTG24.
“We have to support the agriculture sector, which is not just about what it produces, it is also vital for our country due to the way it maintains the land”.
A drought alert has spread from the Po valley, where waters are three quarters down amid the worst drought in 70 years, to central rivers like the Arno, the Aniene and the Tiber, which have half the water they normally do at this time of the year, officials said last week.
The drought is putting over 30 percent of national agricultural production and half of livestock farming in the Po valley at risk, said Italian agricultural association Coldiretti on Thursday.
The declaration of a state of emergency would give hard-hit areas the green light to impose water usage restrictions, and to claim funding from the national government to compensate businesses for financial losses due to the drought.
But while regional authorities wait for an announcement from the government, many have started imposing their own localised limits on water usage.
The government of Lazio, the region around Rome, said on Monday it was independently declaring a “state of calamity”.
Water rationing has begun in several comuni (municipalities) around Lake Bracciano, while Rome’s city water board has begun to lower the pressure in the pipes in order to reduce the water supply without having to suspend it.
Lombardy, Piedmont, Veneto and Emilia-Romagna are each evaluating region-wide water rationing measures including, for example, bans on filling swimming pools.
Limits are meanwhile being brought in at local level in individual municipalities within these regions.
Utilitalia, a federation of water companies, last week asked mayors in 100 towns in Piedmont and 25 in Lombardy to suspend nighttime drinking water supplies to replenish reservoir levels.
Some towns in the Po valley area are having to have water brought in by trucks.
Many of these areas have now been without any rain at all for more than 110 days, according to the Po River observatory.
Arid conditions are only expected to worsen in the coming days, with Italy currently in the grip of an intense heatwave bringing temperatures across northern regions into the mid-high 30s.